A big bet on oil train safety in Vancouver


A rendering of what the Vancouver Energy Project would look like at the Port of Vancouver. The facility could move 360,000 barrels of crude oil from rail to ship every day.

This story first appeared on EarthFix.

The company behind the oil-by-rail terminal proposed for the Port of Vancouver announced new safety measures Friday. It hopes they will quell fears about the project.

Oil company Tesoro says it wants to prove to the community and regulators that it takes safety concerns seriously. The Vancouver Energy terminal project is offering to operate far below maximum capacity for two years. General Manager Jared Larrabee said they would only increase the amount of oil they ship if the terminal – and rail cars and shipping tankers transporting the oil - operate without a public safety or environmental incident.

“We fully see this as linking everyone together in improving safety leads to improved economic benefit for everybody,” he said.

Larrabee said the definition of “public safety or environmental incident” would be worked out with regulators during the permitting process.

At maximum capacity, the terminal would load 360,000 barrels of crude oil onto ships daily. That would make it the largest terminal of its kind in the United States.

Under the new proposal, the terminal would operate at 50 percent capacity for the first year. If there are were no incidents, that would increase to 75 percent in the second year.  Barring any problems, the amount of crude oil passing through the terminal would increase to capacity at the beginning of the third year.

Opponents of the project say, even with the voluntary reduction, there would still be too many oil trains traveling through the region.

“There’s a reason ultimately why Tesoro faces enormous opposition throughout the region. It’s because oil trains are reckless and super-dangerous,” said Dan Serres of Columbia Riverkeeper.  “Nothing there to say in this revised application is going to change that fundamental dynamic.”

Serres also says the terminal would not operate at full capacity the first year anyway, and that Tesoro is dressing up a market-driven reality as a safety concession. An economic impact analysis of the project released in 2014 indicated the terminal would operate at under 75 percent of full capacity the first six months because of construction.

In a revised state regulatory application submitted this week, Tesoro offered other safety concessions, as well.  These include boosting safety requirements for oil trains, offering paid emergency response training to local jurisdictions, supplying Washington refineries with crude oil and providing tugboat to accompany all loaded tanker ships from the terminal.

The move comes after an oil train derailed, spilled and caught fire in the Columbia Gorge this summer.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Jes Burns

Jes Burns

Jes Burns is the Southern Oregon reporter for EarthFix, an environmental journalism collaboration led by Oregon Public Broadcasting in partnership with six other public media stations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. She previously worked for the NPR affiliate KLCC in Eugene as a reporter and the local All Things Considered host. Jes has also worked as an editor and producer for Free Speech Radio News and has produced reports as a freelance producer for NPR, Sirius Radio's OutQ News and The Takeaway. Jes has a degree in English literature from Duke University and a master's degree from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communications.